Violence haunts California’s illegal marijuana market, which, law enforcement authorities concede, dwarfs its fledgling, legal counterpart and comprises a sweeping array of players, from mom-and-pop grows to sophisticated drug trafficking organizations.
The murder scene in Aguanga was a large marijuana cultivation and processing site — a “major organized-crime type of an operation,” ...Everyone on the property — living and dead — was Laotian.
[A DEA Agent] divided the region’s illegal marijuana cultivators into three loose groups, each with a distinct modus operandi. Chinese nationals, he said, have set up sophisticated grows within suburban rental homes. They typically divert electricity before it reaches the meter and use it to power high-wattage grow lights and irrigation systems, he said.
They will grow inside a rental home for a few years, then abandon it. By that time, [the Agent] said, the house is all but ruined by the humidity, which breeds mold, and the reek of marijuana, which seeps into the drywall.
Mexican drug trafficking groups, [the Agent] said, oversee the largest cultivation sites in the Inland Empire — fields that are carved out of public forest land, tended by low-paid laborers, irrigated with water siphoned from public sources and doused in illegal pesticides that can poison groundwater. A bonus of growing marijuana on public land, he added, is that if the operators are prosecuted and their property subject to forfeiture, the government cannot seize the land because it already owns it.
The third group in the Inland Empire are Laotian growers, [the Agent] said. Concentrated in the Anza Valley, they typically raise their crop in plywood sheds and grow houses erected on private land.